Paige FTW: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Stan Lee’s impact on popular culture cannot, at this point, be accurately measured. He created or helped to create Spider-Man, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hulk, Thor, the X-Men and hundreds of other iconic Marvel characters, which today dominate movies, television, video games and the world as a general whole.

The legend died Nov. 12 at age 95, leaving an unmatched legacy behind.

Lee is widely credited with bringing moral complexity and humanity to a genre defined by gods and otherworldly beings. The humble, too-human Peter Parker and the deeply flawed Tony Stark certainly are worlds away from Superman’s early-days radiant glow — perhaps we can’t quite see that distinction today (in a world where broody, it’s-tough-being-a-god Superman exists), but in the 1960s, it was groundbreaking.

His real life mirrored that, in a way, as controversy followed his “Marvel method” of story creation (where artists would illustrate a story from a synopsis Lee provided, whereupon Lee would jump back in to write dialogue) and propensity to market himself as the predominant creator of so many iconic heroes over collaborators like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

Yet, without Stan Lee, where would any of those characters be? He extolled them until we couldn’t imagine a world without them.

Today, we take for granted that our heroes have weaknesses. We seek them out, in fact, turning to a thousand sordid tales of how yet another politician, another folk hero, another good Samaritan has ended up being scum after all. Yet we yearn for them to be more.

It was a scandal when Captain America (one of the few iconic Marvel heroes Lee did not create) got temporarily turned into a Nazi. People hate emo Superman, torn over whether he can handle being a savior to mankind. We want our heroes to be pure and good. We don’t want to have to turn on them when they reveal they are human, just like us, all along.

This is the blessing and curse of Stan Lee — a man who offered flawed heroes, problematic heroes, who still were through-and-through heroes at the end of the day. We have faith that people will be good, in the end.

And without Lee, it’s a faith that’s a little harder to find.